Lewisville — After a decade, it's natural for a ballet to start to lose some of its luster. But that's not the case with LakeCities Ballet Theatre's Halloween spook-tacular, Le Ballet de Dracula, which played to a sold-out crowd for the troupe's 10th-anniversary show on Saturday at the Medical Center of Lewisville Grande Theatre.
Having seen this production many times before, I can honestly say the ballet gets visually and technically stronger every year thanks to Artistic Director Kelly Kilburn Lannin's fine choreographic detailing and continous production enhancements, including set designs, costuming and special effects that always seem to bring audiences to the edge of their seats.
The show's popularity can also be attributed to Tom Rutherford's well-conceived narrative and creative mash-up of characters including Ratcliff (the quirky sidekick), weolas (batlike creatures) and a dozen vampire brides.
Loosely based on Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, LBT's version illustrates the love triangle between Aurelia, Marius and Dracula in two well-balanced acts. In the first half the villagers, gypsies and Romanians all come together to celebrate the engagement of Aurelia (Carley Denton) and Marius (guest artist Steven Loch of Pacific Northwest Ballet).
The company members demonstrated great animation and agility in the specialized group dances, which featured various movement styles, including soft-shoe ballet, pointe, jazz, modern and even some folk dance. The Romanian dancers’ rhythmic foot stomps and traveling shuffle steps were accompanied by simple arm gestures and crisp formation changes.
The gypsies, led by Denise Clarkston, used an array of hip isolations and open-armed twirling phrases to depict their rebellious nature. Aurelia's friends (Chloe Davis, Kristina Lorelli, Carly Greene, Julie Fenske, Madeline Hanly and Julia Tiller) proved why LBT is one of the most sought after pre-professional ballet companies in the Dallas area with their exacting pointe work, beautiful musicality and commanding stage presence.
One of the newer additions to the show was a musically enchanting pas de deux with company member Michelle Lawyer and guest artist Dan Westfield pf Ballet Frontier of Texas. Lawyer's lithe frame and nimble point work balanced out Westfield's wider frame and explosive jump sequences.
In the partnering sections each pulled from the other's strengths and suddenly Lawyer's sautés were as high as Westfield's, and his arms placement and fourth lunges were just as soft as Lawyer's. The exchanging of the tambourine throughout the pas de duex was perfectly timed and added a new musical layer to the dance.
Carley Denton's role as Aurelia was well-earned. Her flexibility and stamina has improved over the last year, demonstrated through her various sustained body positions and lightning-quick pique turns. She has also found the key to releasing the tension in her shoulders with the help of certain breathing techniques.
Steven Loch continues to breathe new life into the role of Marius with his limitless energy and technical fortitude. The couple's pas de deux was a lovely display of unending lines and counterbalance poses topped with Denton's six continuous pirouettes into a luxurious body dip at the end.
The maypole dance that Lannin incorporated about six years ago remains one of the highlights of the first half. In this scene 12 dancers frolicked around a 15-foot pole, creating an intricate weaving pattern with the brightly colored streamers they carried. Rhythmic clapping accompanied the dancers' spritely skips and gallop steps.
The mood changed drastically when Dracula (Shannon Beacham) and his minion Ratcliff (Asia Waters) arrived to lure Aurelia away from her family and Marius. Over the years Beacham has perfected the role of Dracula, from his menacing walks and nuanced cape flicks to the overly dramatic facial expressions.
Smoke machines and special lighting techniques succeeded in creating the illusion of Dracula appearing out of thin air. The dim lighting, ominous music and ghostly appearance of Dracula’s brides in the second half evenly matched the dancers' loose, hanging arms, soundless bourrees across the floor and vacant expressions.
Julia Tiller (Marcela) set the tone at the beginning of the scene with her solid pointe work and expansive arm-gesturing. The fight scene between Loch and Beacham started off spotty with some lengthy pauses between their physical exchanges, but they quickly found their rhythm. Mindful of the young ones in the audience, the really heavy moments were lightened by Waters' constant wandering and clumsy interactions with the brides.
Wildly creative, meticulously produced and cleverly choreographed, LakeCities Ballet Theatre's Le Ballet de Dracula is sure to continue entertaining audiences for the next 10 years.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com.